Thursday Jan 22 2009
Bringing traditional doctrine up to modern times
By: Adam Talbott, Cornerstone Community Church
When denominations change their doctrinal statements, the changes usually move away from what previous generations would have recognized as true. In contrast, the Evangelical Free Church of America recently revised its Statement of Faith to simply reaffirm what the 1950 framers believed, but in a modern context. For example, the revision strengthens our statement about the Bible’s reliability by adding the lines, “The Bible is ... the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged.” Also, “[The Bible] is to be believed in all that it teachers, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.” The Bible “without error” has always been essential to evangelicalism. But the hot philosophical questions today relate to epistemology (how do we know what we know?). Many people question the Bible’s clarity in ways that the 1950 framers did not anticipate. People today say, “Since God is incomprehensible and we are only human, we cannot claim to have any firm understanding of Him or His truth.” This attitude is characteristic of America’s growing relativism. In the EFCA we’re concerned about the slippery slope of questioning God’s ability to communicate clearly. Inevitably, having lost confidence in the Bible, people begin to disregard whatever they don’t like about the Bible, regardless of how clear it is. This impacts sexuality, God’s attributes, and even the Gospel itself. We believe that God is incomprehensible and glorious beyond our full comprehension. In Isaiah 55:8 God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” However, we also believe that God is our all-powerful creator who can communicate very clearly about whatever he wants us to understand. Therefore, I can have confidence in what God teaches in his word, even though so much of it remains mysterious. I know my friend Dan pretty well. I’m confident he exists. I’m confident about where he works, his favorite movies, what makes him laugh, and what it’s like to spend time with him. But other people know Dan better. I certainly don’t know Dan fully. Something similar is at work in my relationship with God. This approach to Bible interpretation gives a preacher something substantive to say. Of course the very word “preach” sounds bizarre today, mainly because it implies the duty to listen and respond, as to an authority. Modern American individualism bristles at this. If the sermon is a dumb lecture about the preacher’s opinions and prejudices, then we should reject it. But if the preacher works hard and humbly to bridge the gap between what the Bible says and what we currently understand, then the sermon has authority beyond what can be rejected without harm. It is God’s word. I’m looking forward to heaven. So many questions! But until then, I welcome God’s right to speak truth into my confusion. True to form, the Bible nails my predicament with these hopeful words: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). Adam Talbott is pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Auburn. Learn more about the church at www.cornerstonecc.org or by calling (530) 823-0141.